More and more men were named as having enlisted. Volunteers went in groups of friends. This was the tragic time of the making of regiments of Pals. Thus in one month, John Baird and George Mairs from the Mill and Edmund Carrick, Alfred Layton, a Jobling and Chris Kay from Ramshaw all volunteered. School teachers went together, R. Weldon from Ramshaw Council School P.M. Layton and H. Rowe from Evenwood National School and of course brothers went together; the two Rushfords joined the Army Service Corps. Their butcher’s cart had always been a familiar object on its rounds. The enlistment of all these persons was recorded in the one month of February 1915 and already their going had begun to effect local services. In June 1915, it was the local physician Dr. Campbell whose going was noticed. He was appointed to a lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and spent a few days among his relatives in Scotland before proceeding to York.
On what was becoming consciously the home front, all public and social and charitable occasions were directed towards the service of the war. The pie supper and social in Railey Fell Colliery Institute and its proceeds of £8 were in aid of comforts for the soldiers and sailors. The Evenwood Belgian Refugee Fund reached £60 by the middle of the year. By that time, the Evenwood Ladies Sewing Meeting, making garments for soldiers, had raised £39 7s 6d. Among the articles needed were mufflers of fleeced wool, drab shades 58” long and 10” wide and mittens of knitted wool in drab shades and no fingers, measuring 8” from wrist to knuckles. These practical requirements would ensure the wearers had concealment as well as warmth and freedom for their trigger fingers.
A local fund for relatives of men was in existence and quickly gathered funds. The Girls Friendly Society held in May a sale of work and social in aid of the National Relief Fund. A communication, surely superfluous, was received from the County Council in late 1915:
“Our Duty in War Time”
An appeal to women and girls:
“A woman’s first duty is to GIVE – let us teach our children to give also.
Nothing should be wasted”.
The war could still be presented as a great game, an opportunity for travel, manly sports and cheerful endurance. Arthur Daniel, training at Haltwhistle said he had got a very nice and interesting piece of duty – signalling and he has just passed an exam in it. He used to be in the choir and now was leading the singing in his brigade. Robert Simpson was a corporal in India with the 2nd Devons and sent a cutting from an Indian paper describing a concert in which he played a prominent part, mostly singing. On his promotion to sergeant, he wrote to Collis, the vicar, saying he, “was not much in love with India as a whole but is in the pleasanter part of it, up among the hills, more than 6000 ft above sea level”. He sent two programmes of concerts they had performed in, in which the “Devon Dumplings” a pierrot troupe, seemed to have greatly distinguished themselves.
George Featherstone wrote from a camp in Tring, “When we were in Maidenhead, the people had difficulty in understanding our language. One old lady went home and said there were a lot of foreign soldiers come into town”. In September 1915, J.W. Wren wrote from HMS Black Prince:
“The navy is a grand life but it is tiresome waiting so long for the German Fleet to come out. All my sailor pals are in good heart and we are all ready to chance our lives for our country. We have plenty of sports here football, boxing, jumping, roller skating and dancing every Sat. night. The Chaplain has lantern lectures for us and we also have concerts. We have a band on board and everything possible is done to keep us in good health and spirits. I cannot tell you where we are what we are doing but we are all wanting a bat at the German fleet”.
Edgar Rushford wrote from the trenches:
“Somewhere in France – I have not had a bad time out here, a little rough perhaps but we just share our troubles together and hope for a better time coming. I was not long before I got two stripes (corporal) – it has made me ambitious to get more. The YMCA is a second home to soldiers. All sorts of things are arranged for the good of troops – you can buy refreshments, hear good concerts, write letters and have the loan of football and cricket outfits.”
In October J.H. Nutter wrote from Aldershot:
“During the day we fall in 7 times for drill or lectures, not counting Roll Call. Unless chosen for guard duty we are free after tea from 5.15 – 9.30 pm when Tattoo is sounded. Lights out is sounded at 10.15 and I think we all sleep soundly.”
The newspaper regularly noticed homecomings and leave such as Private “Willie” Longstaffe at home for four days leave. Sometimes details were given that conceivably could have helped the enemy, if the Huns had been scanning the pages of the Auckland Chronicle thus on leave were Arthur Dunn training on HMS Vernon at Portsmouth and Sergeant Carling who expected to be at the front immediately. In November the paper told of Fred Neasham sailing for Serbia.
During 1915, local volunteers were coming forward at a rate of about 4 a month. In August, William Storey of Gordon Lane, James Barron of Lands Bank and Josiah Wilson of Oaks joined the 6th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry and John Wren of Copeland Row joined the Royal Navy. In September J.H. Nutter from the National School enlisted in the RAMC, J. Lawson and T.P. Oates who used to drive people to Bishop Auckland, enlisted as drivers in the Army. In October there were another four new recruits; W. Purdy of West View, W. Carrick of South View and A. Lynas of Chapel Street joined the Navy and C.T. Clarke joined the RAMC. Again, these examples suggest men going together as companions, in so far as they go in little groups into the same arms or regiments. Such was the apparent rate of local recruitment that the vicar wrote that Lord Derby’s recruiting scheme could hardly affect Evenwood since already almost as many men had gone as could be spared from the great national work of getting coal.
From September 1915, the war began to hurt. The first casualty was John James (Peter) Adams of the Oaks who was wounded. Then the news came of the first of the great mass battles which involved “several local lads”. This was probably the battle on September 25th in the region of Loos. G. Featherstone. J. Carling, E. Towers and A. Bainbridge of Lands were among those who took part. Then came the death of Herbert Dixon, son-in-law of Mrs. Oldfield of Shirley terrace employed by Handley and later by the colliery as a painter. He was killed on October 4th and his wife received these two letters giving the circumstantial detail then often communicated,
“Dear Mrs. Dixon
It is with regret that I have to inform you of the death of your husband Corpl. H. Dixon, 5th Batt. Border Regt. He died of wounds received from a German sniper about 8.30pm Oct.4th. He lived about 2 hours after he was hit but never regained consciousness and did not suffer any pain. He was buried this evening about a mile behind the firing line and the funeral service was read by the Brigade Chaplain. Several NCOs and men attended to see the last of their brave comrade. We all sympathise deeply with you in your loss
R. Hayson Sgt. Major”
“Dear Mrs. Dixon
It is with deep regret that I have to inform you of your husband’s death which occurred last night from a bullet wound received while on duty in the trenches. He was practically killed instantly as he expired shortly after, never regaining consciousness from the time he was hit. On behalf of the members of the 5th company, I tender their deepest sympathy in the great loss you have sustained which is ours as well, as he was respected by all he came in contact with and was always careful in his duties. He was buried in Houplines cemetery near Armentieres besides his other fallen comrades of the battalion.
Ed. D. Birnie CQM Sergeant.”
From now on the news of casualties was to become routine. In October, Joseph Bowman of the Royal Engineers, met with a nasty riding accident. He was exercising a transport mule when the animal fell over on of him. He was to be in hospital in Aldershot for some time. He was not to recover his health and was eventually discharged. During December, R. Wheldon formerly of Ramshaw School was in hospital recovering from a nasty wound, having lost an eye. J. Rutter of Victoria Street had also been wounded and nothing had been heard of Edgar Towers who was known to have been wounded. News also came from time to time of those who distinguished themselves in action. In December 1915, Percy Brass was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). Shortly afterwards, he was commissioned as an officer.
W. Carrick, W. Purdy & A. Lynas
Corpl. H. Dixon
Sgt. Edgar Towers